Archive for the ‘Faith and Works’ Tag

Faithful Servants of God, Part VI   1 comment

Above:  Chapel of the Beatitudes, Galilee, 1940

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-20815

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, 20-22 or Ezekiel 18:1-9, 25-32

Psalm 5

Galatians 2:14-21

Matthew 5:1-12

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I, as a member of a monthly book group, have been reading Jonathan T. Pennington’s Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, a volume that overturns more than a century of scholarly consensus.  Pennington rejects the idea, ubiquitous in sermons, Sunday School lessons, commentaries, and study Bibles, that “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution–a way to avoid saying “God.”  He posits that “Kingdom of Heaven” actually refers to God’s rule on the Earth, that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is essentially the New Jerusalem, still in opposition to the world.  God will, however, take over the world, thereby resolving the tension.

The Kingdom of Heaven, we read in the Beatitudes, belongs to those who know their need for God and who experience persecution for the sake of righteousness.  They would certainly receive the kingdom, I agree.

Justification is a theme in Galatians 2.  There we read an expression of the Pauline theology of justification by faith, not by works or the Law of Moses.  This seems to contradict James 2:24, where we read that justification is by works and not by faith alone.  It is not actually a disagreement, however, given the different definitions of faith in the thought of James and St. Paul the Apostle.  Both of them, one learns from reading their writings and dictations, affirmed the importance of responding to God faithfully.  The theme of getting one’s act together and accepting one’s individual responsibility for one’s actions fits well with Ezekiel 18, which contradicts the theology of intergenerational guilt and merit found in Exodus 20:5.

How we behave matters very much; all of the readings affirm this.  Thus our actions and inactions have moral importance.  Do we comfort those who mourn?  Do we show mercy?  Do we make peace?  Do we seek to be vehicles of divine grace to others?  Hopefully we do.  And we can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO, PROPHET OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPHER WORDSWORTH, HYMN WRITER AND ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEFA SANCHO DE GUERRA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SERVANTS OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL RODIGAST, GERMAN LUTHERAN ACADEMIC AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a-humes/

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Laying Down Burdens, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Ludolf Bakhuizen

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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You have shown us, O Lord, what is good;

enable us, we pray, to perform what you require, even

to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 154

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Micah 6:1-4, 5b-8

Psalm 44

Hebrews 11:1-3, 6

Matthew 8:23-27

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I prefer to use language correctly.  Therefore I like the title of S. I. Hayakawa‘s classic work, Use the Right Word.  Consider the word “faith,” O reader.  It, like many other words in the Bible, has a range of meanings in the sacred anthology.  In the Letter of James, for example, faith is intellectual, so works must accompany it; justification with God comes through works, not words, in James.  In Pauline theology, however, faith is inherently active; works are part of the package deal.  Thus justification comes by faith, not works, according to St. Paul the Apostle.  The two actually agree, for they arrive at the same point from different directions.  We read of another definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1:

Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

If we have concrete evidence for a proposition, we have no need for faith to accept it.  With that in mind, O reader, consider the following statement:  Human depravity is not an article of faith for me, for I have evidence from the past and present for it.  I reserve faith for issues (such as the resurrection of Jesus) for which there is no concrete evidence to prove or disprove.

We cannot repay God for any, much less all, God has done for us and continues to do, but we can, by grace, respond faithfully.  If we cannot respond as faithfully as we know we should, we can do something, at least.  The inability to do everything is no excuse for not doing anything.  Storms of life leave us battered, do they not?  Frequently we emerge from them angry–perhaps justifiably.  Anger of a certain sort, channeled properly, can be socially constructive and spiritually beneficial.  However, frequently, if not usually, anger functions negatively in societies, communities, organizations, families, and individual lives.

By faith we can see the way to lay down that burden, and to do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with God.  Laying down that burden of anger can prove difficult; I know this from experience.  I wish that doing what I know God tells me to do were easier and more appealing to me than the alternatives.  The struggle is palpable, but the strength necessary to succeed is divine, not human.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARY SLESSOR, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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Faith and Works, Part II   1 comment

Above:   Christ Before Caiaphas, by Matthias Stom

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

Psalm 119:153-160

James 2:18-26

John 11:47-53

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The imagined disagreement between the Letter of James and St. Paul the Apostle regarding faith, works, and justification is one of which I have written repeatedly at this and other weblogs, with their thousands of posts.  Writing of it again and again has, frankly, become irritating to me.  Yet I have, yet again, felt obligated to explain it again, so here it is:  Faith is inherently active in Pauline theology and is intellectual in the Letter of James.

The emphasis on works in James might seem off-putting to a staunch Protestant, but it is a useful reminder that what we do matters.  If we, as in John 11, scapegoat an innocent man, that is not only wrong but important too.  If we, unlike Koheleth, value wealth too much, that is also wrong and important.  If we value the commandments of God, we well act accordingly.  Doing so might, as in the case of the Psalmist, lead to persecution.  Clinging to God during suffering is a faithful response.

Consenting to vague principles is easy, but acting on them is often more difficult.  We can follow through, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BERNARD ADAM GRUBE, GERMAN-AMERICAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, COMPOSER, AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT BAIN OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, MONK, MISSIONARY, AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF JOHANN FRIEDRICH HERTZOG, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/devotion-for-proper-25-ackerman/

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Active Faith IV   1 comment

Sacrifice of Isaac--Caravaggio

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your church.

Open our hearts to the riches of your grace,

that we may be ready to receive you wherever you appear,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 33:1-17 (Monday)

2 Chronicles 34:22-33 (Tuesday)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Both Days)

Hebrews 11:1-7 (Monday)

Hebrews 11:17-28 (Tuesday)

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How blessed the nation that learns to acclaim you!

They will live, Yahweh, in the light of your presence.

–Psalm 89:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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That is the theology in the accounts of Kings Manasseh and Josiah of Judah.  We read of Manasseh (reigned 698/687-642 B.C.E.) in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 and 2 Kings 21:1-18.  The story in 2 Kings is more unflattering than the version in 2 Chronicles, for the latter mentions his repentance.  Manasseh’s grandson, Josiah (reigned 640-609 B.C.E.) is on the scene in 2 Chronicles 34-35 and 2 Kings 22:1-23:30.  His fidelity to the Law of Moses delays the destruction of Judah, we read.

Hebrews 11 focuses on faith.  Verse 1 defines faith as

the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

In context this definition of faith is consistent with the understanding of St. Paul the Apostle, for whom faith was inherently active, hence the means of one’s justification with God.  In the Letter of James, however, faith is intellectual, so justification comes via works.  This is not a contradiction, just defining “faith” differently.  Active faith is the virtue extolled consistently.

I argue with Hebrews 11:17-20.  The near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) was a form of child abuse.  There was no way it did not damage the father-son relationship.  Earlier in Genesis Abraham had interceded on behalf of strangers in Sodom (Chapter 18).  Yes, he had relatives there (see Genesis 13, 14, and 19), but he argued on behalf of strangers.  In Chapter 22 he did not do that for his son, Isaac.  God tested Abraham, who failed the test; he should have argued.

Did I understand you correctly?

would have been a good start.

May we have the active faith to follow God.  May we know when to question, when to argue, and when to act.  May we understand the difference between an internal monologue and a dialogue with God.  Out of faith may we act constructively and thereby leave the world better than we found it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 23, 2016 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK

THE FEAST OF GEORGE RUNDLE PRYNNE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR, PATRIARCH OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH VON LAUFENBERG, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TURIBIUS OF MOGROVEJO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF LIMA

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-14-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Law of Moses, Faith, Works, and Justification   1 comment

Hezekiah

Above:  Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, throughout the ages you judge your people with mercy,

and you inspire us to speak your truth.

By your Spirit, anoint us for lives of faith and service,

and bring all people into your forgiveness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 29:1-19 (Monday)

2 Chronicles 30:1-12 (Tuesday)

2 Chronicles 30:13-27 (Wednesday)

Psalm 130 (All Days)

Galatians 3:1-9 (Monday)

Galatians 3:10-14 (Tuesday)

Mark 2:1-12 (Wednesday)

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For with Yahweh is faithful love,

with him generous ransom;

and he will ransom Israel

from all its sins.

–Psalm 130:7b-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The Law of Moses receives positive treatment in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30.  Keeping it is an outward sign of devotion to God in the narrative from the reign of King Hezekiah.  After all, the theology of the Babylonian Exile is that it resulted from widespread and persistent disregard for the Law of Moses, especially those regarding idolatry and social injustice, especially economic exploitation and judicial corruption.

What are we to make, then, of St. Paul the Apostle’s attitude toward the Law of Moses?  The immediate context of Galatians 3 was the question of the relationship between faith and works with regard to justification with God.  St. Paul argued that justification with God occurs via faith alone, faith being inherently active; faith and works were, in the Apostle’s mind, a package deal.  He cited the example of Abraham, whose faith God reckoned as righteousness.  The author of the Letter of James cited that example also, but to argue that

a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 3:24, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

For the author of James faith was intellectual and not inherently active, so the pairing of faith and works was crucial.  The men agreed that active faith was essential.

Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  He engaged in disputes with religious officials whose legalism amplified certain aspects of the Law of Moses while ignoring the mandate to practice mercy, also part of the law.  Our Lord and Savior argued that certain religious leaders taught the Law of Moses wrongly, not that the law was invalid.  The law, ideally, was something that would become part of one, that one would keep it in principle, bearing in mind that some parts of it were culturally specific examples, and not becoming bogged down in them.  It was something one was supposed to keep as a matter of reverence and gratitude, not legalism.  Perhaps St. Paul was objecting more to legalism than to the Law of Moses itself.  He was, after all, engaged in a dispute with Judaizers, who insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity (then a Jewish sect) became Jews first.  The context of argument contributed to taking an opposite position, not seeking a moderate position.

Jesus agreed with Rabbi Hillel, who summarized the Torah as loving God with all of one’s being.  Hillel continued,

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Much of that commentary consists of instructions (many of them culturally specific) about how to care for the vulnerable people in our midst.  May we Gentiles follow the lead of our Jewish brethren and ask ourselves how to apply those laws in our contexts.  Then may we live according to the divine mandate to love God fully and each other as we love ourselves.  May we do this out of reverence and gratitude, as an expression of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL CUFFEE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO THE SHINNECOCK NATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CASIMIR OF POLAND, PRINCE

THE FEAST OF EMANUEL CRONENWETT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARINUS OF CAESAREA, ROMAN SOLDIER AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR, AND ASTERIUS, ROMAN SENATOR AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-6-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Presence of God, Part IV   1 comment

Golden Calf

Above:  The Golden Calf

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 33:1-6

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

Romans 4:1-12

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Search for the LORD and the strength of the LORD;

continually seek the face of God.

–Psalm 105:4, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The reading from Exodus 33 follows on the heels of chapter 32, in which Israelites had created a golden bull (although the traditional term is golden calf) as a tangible sign of God’s presence while Moses was away on Mount Sinai/Horeb with God briefly.  God, we read, was most unhappy:

If I were to go in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you.

–Exodus 33:5b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Moses talks God down, fortunately for the Israelites.

Faith, for St. Paul the Apostle, was inherently active.  Hence the Pauline definition of faith was that, in the absence of proof for or against a proposition, one trusts that it is true and acts accordingly.  This contradicts the definition of faith in the Letter of James, whose author wrote that faith (for him merely intellectual) is insufficient for justification with God.  No, in the Letter of James justification comes via works.  Both writers agreed that works are essential for justification with God, but St. Paul understood works to be part and parcel of faith.  These are the kinds of nuances many people overlook in the Bible.

To have an active faith in God, who is invisible, is not to go through life without tangible signs of the divine presence.  Actually, tangible indicators of God’s presence surround us.  We have no need to manufacture any such indicator, for nature is replete with them.  We need merely to open our minds, attune them to spiritual matters, and observe.  The Reverend Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), Presbyterian minister, humanitarian, poet, and admirer of nature, summarized the point well:

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears,

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;

His hand the wonders wrought.

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This is my Father’s world,

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

The full text of the poem begins on page 180 of this book.

The presence of God is tangible indeed.  In my darkest hours, my happiest moments, and the times between those two extremes I have encountered God via people and animals as well as directly, without mortals as vehicles of grace.  You, O reader, might understand well what I mean because of your experiences.  If you do not, are you willing to perceive the tangible presence of God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 15, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 28:  THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF REGENSBURG

THE FEAST OF JOHANN GOTTLOB KLEMM, INSTRUMENT MAKER; DAVID TANNENBERG, SR., GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN ORGAN BUILDER; JOHANN PHILIP BACHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN INSTRUMENT MAKER; JOSEPH FERDINAND BULITSCHEK, BOHEMIAN-AMERICAN ORGAN BUILDER; AND TOBIAS FRIEDRICH, GERMAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/devotion-for-monday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Glorifying God II   1 comment

Cedars of Lebanon in Snow

Above:  Cedars of Lebanon in Snow, March 1946

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-22650

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The Collect:

O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to the world.

Graft us into yourself and nurture our growth,

that we may bear your truth and love to those in need,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 31:1-12

Psalm 52

Galatians 6:11-18

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Why do you glory in evil, you tyrant,

while the goodness of God endures forever?

–Psalm 52:1, Common Worship (2000)

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The date on the oracle in Ezekiel 31 places it about two months prior to the fall of the First Temple.  Yes, the Temple which King Solomon had built fell, but God did not.  And the Pharaoh of Egypt lost power, but God did not.  The common assumption that a kingdom’s downfall indicated the defeat of its deities was false.

The crucifixion of Jesus was, according to Roman authorities, supposed to be his extinguishment, not just his execution.  No trace of him was to remain, according to the imperial plan.  There was, however, a resurrection, which made plain the power of God and the defeat of evil plans.  Thus it was fitting that St. Paul the Apostle chose to boast of the cross of Christ.

I, without falling into the pietistic error of dismissing “externals,” recognize a biblical theme present in both Testaments:  maintaining appearances of piety without obeying God (including working for social justice) makes a mockery of rituals.  Repeating prayers and rituals while exploiting others or justifying the exploitation of others does not make one less impious.

So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

–James 2:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

May our Christian faith be active, work for evangelism and social justice, and not constitute a mockery of piety.  May it glorify God and not ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 21, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHEVENIX TRENCH, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SERAPION OF THMUIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOMAS KEN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM EDWARD HICKSON, ENGLISH MUSIC EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL REFORMER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-6-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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